Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Switch) Review
If you’ve ever wondered what Minecraft would be like with quests, villagers who don’t all look the same, a dash of good humour, and more vivid colours than a clown’s wardrobe, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the game for you. Across the board, Dragon Quest Builders 2 has many small improvements that make it much more satisfying to play than its predecessor, and if you’re like me, it’ll quickly become a dangerously enticing way to spend your free time.
The game begins with your builder, male or female, aboard a ship of wise-cracking monsters. You eventually wind up on a deserted island and meet the mysterious Malroth, who decides to accompany you on your journey to find people to help you repopulate and build on the Isle of Awakening.
For the record, I have decided Malroth is the Best Boy. Despite his love of destroying things and violence, Malroth is considerate, funny, and a genuine joy to have accompanying you on your journey, which is much more than I can say for some other games’ compulsory sidekicks (looking at you, Pokémon Colosseum). If you begin collecting a material, Malroth will begin collecting too, if there’s more to be found nearby. There are multiple instances where he asks if you’re doing alright during particularly intense story moments, and he’ll help you fight monsters if you’re under attack. He’s a certified good egg, I tell you! I will not hear dissent!
How you go about the business of building is a little different than the original Dragon Quest Builders. No longer do your hammer or weapons degrade over time and equipping them is easier than ever; you can equip weapons and armour from your toolbar if they’re stored there. There’s also some interesting new tools and ways to change the landscape around you, which I really enjoy. My only real gripe is that the A Button changes your current tool, but A is also the button to talk to people and interact with certain objects like signs. Trying to switch tools quickly around the villagers becomes a little annoying, and I often ended up accidentally talking a villager or Best Boy Malroth over and over by mistake. In some instances, I had to leave a room, change my tool, and run back in to finish what I was doing.
My one other minor gripe is the hunger system, which makes a return. Over time, the hunger percentage at the top of the screen will decrease, and when it hits 0% you can no longer sprint. Your character will also make frequent small sighing and grumbling noises, interrupting whatever they’re doing to remind you to let them eat something. Most of the time, the hunger mechanic only felt as if it were getting in the way of me doing whatever I was trying to accomplish. Having to stop to devour obscene mouthfuls of kelp to make my builder stop sighing started to feel tedious.
On the bright side, building has had a lot of small improvements that really add up to make the game a much better experience than the original. A small example is blocks that “link” together – no longer do you need to build separate types of roofing or fences, such as corner pieces because when placed next to each other, the block will change accordingly. There are double doors, railings, and lots of other building pieces that do this, and it saves a lot of time, especially when trying to build roofing. The builder’s table will also show you with an exclamation point or a little icon whether you need to build a particular item for a blueprint or a quest, which is brilliant and saves time navigating between menus to try and remember what exactly you need.
On that note, the main menu has been greatly improved as well, and it feels less like a straight copy of the traditional Dragon Quest RPG-style menu and a bit better suited for the game at hand, which is a welcome change. The main menu allows access to room recipes you’ve discovered, blueprints you’ve completed and might want to build again, and your expanded inventory. There’s also the new snapshot mode which I’ve had endless fun mucking around with and trying to pause the game at just the right moment to get a good shot. There are options to change the builder’s expression, other people’s expressions, if they’re facing toward the camera or not, and a few cute filters and focus options. There aren’t as many filters or camera options as I would like from a snapshot mode, but it’s a fun addition.
The story proceeds in a similar manner to that of the original Builders; proceeding from place to place with defined goals to complete, culminating in a boss battle, and then moving onto your next destination and starting over again. It’s not all the same though, as I feel the story and what exactly you’re doing in each level are much more varied and interesting than the original game. There’s a lot of great scenery in the main levels that make them more captivating than those of the original Builders, and you’re not always just completing blueprints or building rooms as you do in the original, either.
Notably different from the first Builders is the Isle of Awakening, the deserted island. Once you’ve completed the first main island for the story, the island is free to you to build on as you please. Better yet, there are some main goals of things to build and rewards if you complete them, which is a good addition for those who want to build things as they see fit but still have some direction or some ideas of what to do with all that empty space. I really like that the game has done away with the separation of the story chapters and “Terra Incognita” free-build modes of the first game; having the free-build mode incorporated into the main game makes it feel a bit more worthwhile than it did in Builders.
There are also some smaller islands called the Explorer’s Shores, which randomly regenerate each time you visit them and are a good source of materials. You gain access to these through spending gratitude points you earn from your villagers, and there’s also a checklist of sorts for each island – if you explore enough and find one of every item, you gain access to an unlimited supply of a material, such as wood, or cord. This also carries on to the main story islands, which is excellent. It’s a good incentive to explore and try to find everything and it makes building and creativity a bit less of a material-gathering grind.
Additionally, the settlements feel more alive as well, and over time, villagers become able to do more and more as you earn gratitude points from completing their requests. The result is that villagers don’t just wander around or craft random items all day; they’ll eat meals, cultivate crops, or go mining for metals, just to name a few examples. It’s rewarding to complete tasks, earn points and see the changes in the behaviour of your villagers as you help them out. They can even help you build blueprints, so it doesn’t feel like you’re always having to step in to build something for a town of helpless mannequins.
Exploration has also been improved with the introduction of a warp system – you can always warp back to base, and if you find “naviglobes” around the map, those act as quick travel points. It doesn’t cost you anything to warp, and it allows you to get out of sticky situations quickly if you’ve wandered into a dangerous area without being prepared, or find you’ve strayed a bit too far on the enormous map to go where you need to before nightfall. Needless to say, I love this feature. It encourages exploration, which is rewarded if you manage to find the Builder Puzzles around the map (you’re rewarded later for completing these), hidden treasure chests, or mini-boss battles that yield some excellent loot. The game will show a message if “a super strong monster has appeared” to let you know you’ve found a mini-boss, and best of all, you can just warp on away if you’re not interested!
Even the graphical quality and audio design have been improved, and the difference is impressive. It’s surprisingly satisfying to hear the sound of the ocean lapping onto the shore of the deserted island, or crows cawing as the sun sets over fields of wheat. Even something as simple as the breeze blowing through the leaves and the quality of the lighting is so pleasant; so much so that it was jarring to jump back into the first Builders to compare the two. Admittedly, the initial loading screen into Builders 2 is a little longer, but the subsequent loading screens aren’t lengthy, and I would argue the enormous leap in visual quality completely justifies the short wait. The world of Builders 2 just feels more alive than its predecessor in every way because of these improvements, and it’s a welcome addition of detail.
On the subject of audio design, the somewhat infamous music of Sugiyama Kobo returns and it’s unfortunately not an orchestrated soundtrack. I realise that for some the music is perfectly fine, but I found turning down the music volume helped me endure some of the more ear-grinding songs in the soundtrack.
Overall, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is just a damn nice game to play. Sure, sometimes there are monsters that are frustrating, or tasks that seem menial, or the endless sighing of an unfed builder, but there’s always a tangible reward for your effort. There are loads of small improvements here that really add up, and the game has a lovely atmosphere. Not to be too sentimental but playing Builders 2 has reminded me that problems are always best tackled with help, and you have the power to change your environment, and your life, with just a bit of hard work. If you were ever curious about the original and didn’t play it, I would recommend skipping straight to Builders 2 and diving in as soon as you can. Happy building!
+ Improvements to building and menus
+ Great sense of humour
+ Huge world to explore
+ Always a reward for your effort
+ No tool or weapon degradation!
+ New tools!
- The soundtrack isn't always great
- The hunger mechanic
- 'A' button for interacting and tool swapping